In Bengal, beyond the urbanscape, there are rural pockets where the glamour and glitz of Bollywood has not yet penetrated, where Jatra Pala still rules the roost. The literal meaning of the Bangla word Jatra is ‘Journey’. The Jatra Pala is a little different from the more commercialised Jatra but has been the unparalleled medium of entertainment for rural Bengal. Loud and colourful, Pala is a long musical narrative that describes episodes from the Mahabharata, Ramayana or other Puranic Texts. This traditional open-air folk drama combining acting, songs, music, dance, is characterized by stylized dialogue delivery and exaggerated gestures and orations. The whole troupe travel from one village to another and perform during the night.
The stage or the ‘Asar’ is the main part of a Jatra Pala and is normally open on all sides and is devoid of any furniture. Huge bulbs and colourful lights are placed for illuminating the stage as the actors and actresses perform along with the musicians.
The actors often deliver dialogues in thunderous voice to catch the attention of the spectators seated on all sides. They laugh, they cry, they sing, they fight, all on the Jatra Asar. The performance usually lasts four long hours during which six to seven songs are also performed. To the famous Bengali intelligentsia, Jatra Pala is nothing but over-dramatic, over the top theatre but the rural audience stamps its approval with loud roars.
What has been presented here is the performance during one of the show nights, from getting ready for stage to heading home past midnight.
6:55 PM. Putting the face paint on
7:04 PM. The Green room is a buzz of activity as actors and actresses get ready for the show
7:06 PM. The future generation watches as the final touches are being put on
7:10 PM. Some are ready, some are not
7:17 PM. Mirror mirror, tell me how I look!
7:27 PM. The hero looks his part
7:32 PM. A young actor asks permission for a toilet break
7:36 PM. Am I looking the part?
7:42 PM. The patriarch wears a satisfied look as the show time nears
7:58 PM. Ready for the show, leaving the green room
7:59 PM. Show time folks as the actor approaches the Jatra Asar
8:12 PM. The show gets under way
8:42 PM. The hero gives the ‘look’
8:58 PM. The accompanying musicians let their presence felt
9:30 PM. Neighbours exchange notes as the drama unfolds on stage
9:42 PM. The lead actor at his expressive best
9:47 PM. Loud and colourful, that’s what Jatra Pala is
10:01 PM. The hero hogs the spot light
10:22 PM. The drama hits a high note
10:45 PM. The lights malfunction and an electrician is called on stage to fix it but the show must go on
10:50 PM. Even the pet dog is not deprived of the show as the whole family gathers around the stage
11:02 PM. In between their parts, actors take a short tea break
11:04 PM. Not an idle moment. In between sips of hot tea, the actors rehearse their parts
11:25 PM. Back on stage, the message goes out loud and clear
11:37 PM. As the show near its end, the drama reaches its crescendo
11:55 PM. The last act, money changes hand as the happy audience chooses to tip the actors
00:10 AM. The show is over, time to change costume for some..
00:22 AM. ..while others head home still dressed in their costumes
About Lopamudra Talukdar
Lopamudra Talukdar, a Masters in Zoology from the University of Kolkata, was fascinated by the world of photography ever since she was a kid but never thought of taking it up seriously until she was gifted a Canon 5D Mark II as recently as 2010.
It changed the world around her…. She started looking at the world through a different set of eyes and with accolades and exhibition opportunities coming her way, it also changed how the world looked at her. It helped that she travels around a lot, both inside and outside India but she is particularly fascinated by the diversity of Indian culture and how different it can be from Nagaland to Nagpur! She is currently doing assignment based photo stories for a number of leading magazines including National Geographic Traveller and Femina.
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All the pictures in this post are copyrighted Lopamudra Talukdar. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.